‘Heartbroken’ arts festivals and shows count cost of snow

The ‘significant’ financial burden will have implications beyond cancelled events

Irish Times journalist Conor Pope gives death-dying circus acts a go as Cirque Berserk! takes over the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin.

 

Venues and production companies that had to cancel events because of the red alert weather are now counting the costs of a disastrous few days.

One-off events and short runs have been hit particularly badly, with the effort and expense of promoting an event lost, and no box-office income to defray costs.

Many venues are currently re-booking or refunding tickets, and have yet to properly assess the fallout.

Audi Dublin International Film Festival

The Audi Dublin International Film Festival had to cancel many screenings and events over the past few days. The festival, which was due to end on Sunday, has managed to reschedule most cancelled films for this week, with more dates to be confirmed. Rescheduled events are being updated here http://www.diff.ie/rescheduled-events

The festival says it’s too early to fully assess the damage as the organisers are still very much in the middle of it. “The extreme weather has made it a very challenging year for the Audi Dublin International Film Festival with more than two full days worth of screenings affected,” says its managing director Sarah Sharkey.

“Our loyal audience has been very supportive and anyone who is unable to attend a rescheduled screening can get a full refund. We’ve had tremendous support from our title sponsor Audi Ireland and our principal funder the Arts Council.

“It’s still too early to assess the full impact of the weather but we’ve been buoyed by our audiences, guest filmmakers, partners, volunteers, board and staff who have pulled together to get us over the finish line at last night’s closing gala and will continue to do so as we screen our postponed titles.”

Powder Her Face

The new company Irish National Opera’s first production, Thomas Adès Powder Her Face was cancelled at two venues, Sligo’s Hawk’s Well and the Solistice in Navan. The opera – a juicy combination of a racy subject and period setting for a tale about the exploits of the “Dirty Duchess” of Argyll who became embroiled in one of the tabloid first sex scandals – was only scheduled to have seven performances, so the loss of two was a severe curtailment.

Ticket holders for cancelled shows were offered three options (transfer tickets to another performances this week, in Dublin’s O’Reilly Theatre on Tuesday 6th or Wednesday 7th, or Siamsa Tire Tralee on Friday March 9th; or use the ticket for INO’s October opera, Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann; or get a refund).

Aside from the box office loss, executive director, Diego Fasciati points out an additional downside: “In the last four days no one has booked any tickets to anything, so our daily sales for Dublin performances of Powder Her Face this week and for Marriage of Figaro in April have all gone down because everybody was concentrating on getting bread and milk!”

The company faced additional costs, such as advertising in media which had distribution problems, and still had to put up artists who travelled for the performances.

Now that the weather has normalised they hope for a return of bookings.

But Fascati is sanguine: “We will be fine. The tour is to mid-size venues. It would have been much worse if we had to cancel our performances in the Bord Gáis theatre. We’re more disappointed that audiences didn’t get to see the opera.

“It’s a rare enough show to be able to see on tour in Ireland, and it has an excellent cast and a 15-piece band. Audiences in Navan may be able to get to Dublin, but Sligo is farther away.”

Cirque Berserk

The Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin had to cancel three shows (on Thursday and Friday night and Saturday at 2pm) in their run of the West End show Cirque Berserk, but other performances over the weekend went ahead.

The contemporary cirque-style show included more than 30 jugglers, acrobats, aerialists, dancers, drummers and daredevil stuntmen and was a short run so there was no possibility of extending. The theatre added an extra performance on Sunday at noon. Ticket-holders for cancelled shows were offered an alternative performance over the weekend.

There were negative comments on the theatre’s website from people unable to get to shows that were not cancelled, and over the weekend a decision was made to offer refunds to ticket-holders who were unable to get to the theatre. (Customers should contact their point of purchase to arrange refunds.)

Head of PR and marketing at the theatre, Claire Whelan says Cirque Berserk was well attended at the weekend and “people were in great form – they were delighted to get out of the house and have respite”, adding that the theatre’ s staff were highly praised by audiences. The theatre is assessing the full costs of the cancellations, and it will have “a significant impact on both the production company and the theatre,” she said.

New Music Dublin

New Music Dublin, an ambitious festival described as “ adventurous music for curious ears” and including classical, electronica, alt-rock, sound art, choral and orchestral music, had to cancel all events, “with great regret” and with apologies, because of the effect of the weather on artist travel, logistics and rehearsals. The festival involved over 540 people due to perform in 26 events on 10 stages over four days. Tickets will be refunded

Today the festival said it was “in the process of working out the exact implications of the snow for New Music Dublin 2018, and are considering rescheduling some of the events” for later this year. “This primarily depends on our ability to overcome many diverse and complex scheduling challenges. We enormously appreciate the goodwill and understanding shown by the participating artists and ensembles, featured composers and all the audience members who shared in our disappointment at the need to cancel last week’s festival.” They say the overwhelming goodwill has heartened them and they plan to return have a festival in 2019.

Project Arts Centre

Melanie Wright, communications manager at Project Arts Centre, Dublin, said there was considerable fall-out, financially and personally, to artists and the venue when it had to cancel shows shows last week. “Although we would have loved for the show to go on, it would have been irresponsible to encourage people to leave their homes during the hazardous conditions.”

Project was one of a few venues that reopened on Saturday when the red warning was initially lifted, and Wright says “there was a great buzz as adults and children made their way in for the matinee of Shackleton”.

They had “healthy numbers” for afternoon and evening performances of Shackleton (Blue Raincoat) and Scorch (Prime Cut Productions) and very positive feedback from the audience, she said.

Customers were largely supportive about the cancellations, and Project is exchanging or refunding tickets. “As well as the loss of revenue there is also significant time, effort and staffing that goes in to issuing exchanges and refunds to customers. It will take us a number of days to work through the backlog.”

The frost damaged the building, which needs small repairs, and the centre isn’t certain yet about the exact financial implications. “At a time when many arts organisations are struggling to make ends meet, the financial burden will have implications beyond these events and may impact on our plans for later this year and beyond,” she said.

Others

Imagining: Home, a two-day literary festival in UCD celebrating the connections between Canada and Ireland, featuring Margaret Atwood, Emma Donoghue, Anne Enright, Victoria Glendinning and John Banville, was scheduled to run on Thursday and Friday, and the entire festival had to be abandoned.

“We are as you can imagine pretty much heartbroken by the turn of events. Ironically, it feels like we are in Canada today,” said Emer Beesley of UCD’s College of Arts and Humanities when they had to cancel.

“It was an instant sell-out,” she said, as they were letting their guests know it had been cancelled.

Ennis Book Club Festival initially cancelled some events but eventually had to cancel everything, a huge disappointment for the festival.

The Town Hall Theatre in Galway had to cancel two performances, on Thursday and Friday, of Druid’s Waiting for Godot. Some customers transferred to other performances “and the balance are being refunded as we speak,” says general manager Fergal McGrath. “Customers are entitled to a full refund when a show is cancelled or abandoned. So the theatre company - Druid - is the big loser here,” he said.

At the Abbey Theatre head of communications Fergus Hannigan says it was “a bit of a hectic week” and they are glad to be returning to normality. The theatre cancelled all shows from Wednesday to Saturday, including five performances of The Unmanageable Sisters on the Abbey stage and five of Porcelain at the Peacock.

There were about 2,000 people booked in when they had to cancel, and the theatre is now rebooking or refunding ticket-holders. He said it was difficult to know how many will opt for a refund, but Porcelain is in its final week so there is not much scope for rebooking, while The Unmanageable Sisters runs till April 7th; its opening night had to be changed from last Thursday to this Wednesday.

“Unfortunately we have a packed programme so we cannot extend either run,” he said, and pointed out that other areas affected were costume hire Facility, the Peacock café and backstage tours. “We did try to make the best of it by running a snow day sale,” offering a discount for this week’s The Unmanageable Sisters. “This got a good response, so we are hopeful.”

Over at the Gate Theatre, the opening weekend performances of Late at the Gate with Emmet Kirwan – the first in the series of a new Gate Studio commissions, where Kirwan responds as a contemporary Jimmy Porter, running late night on Friday and Saturday, in response to the theatre’s current production of Look Back in Anger – had to be cancelled, and will now open this Friday night.

Asked if any support would be forthcoming for organisations struggling as a result of weather-related cancellations, an Arts Council spokesperson said: “While the possibility of paying additional funding is not an option this year, the Arts Council has always been supportive where an arts organisation faces a cash-flow challenge, and we will continue to be so.”